A new law enforcement institution is to be created in Ukraine for the purposes of tackling problems related to crimes committed by top officials, law enforcement officials, military officers and judges.
The creation of the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) will lead to changes for other law enforcement agencies in Ukraine. While no proper attention has been paid to the process, whether by the media or Ukraine`s western partners, some political forces in the country are already gaining an advantage by establishing their control over it. Euromaidan Press talked to Oleksandr Liemienov, a co-founder of StateWatch and the head of a Internal Competition Commission of the SBI on the difficulties in launching the new agency.
What will the new law enforcement institution do?
SBI is a central body of executive power in the structure of the Cabinet of Ministers. Ukraine pledged to create it when entering the Council of Europe. Liemenov explains that the new institution will take over investigative functions from the Prosecutor General Office (PGO). Only public prosecution in court and a procedural guidance of investigations will be left for the PGO.
“Corruption is only a small part of the crimes. Is it really the main problem for Ukrainians? We also have war in Donbas, we have our economy’s total inefficiency. Apart from corruption, the SBI will also deal with war crimes, torture, etc. Now the situation is as follows: policemen beat people and policemen investigate it,” says Liemienov.
Regarding corruption, the new bureau will be dealing with cases involving amounts of up to UAH 800,000 ($28,300), meaning B category corruption. Investigation of top corruption cases (over $28,300) will be assigned to the National Anti-Corruption Bureau, with low level corruption cases left in the police’s hands.
Why the PGO should have less powers
The SBI’s creation will help to weaken the prosecutor’s office, which over many years had turned into a law enforcement monster:
“All the law enforcement institutions were created in a way that the most important of them was the prosecutor’s office,” Yevhen Krapyvin, a lawyer and expert on criminal justice of the Association of Ukrainian Human Rights Monitors on Law Enforcement, told Euromaidan Press.
The expert explained that in Soviet times there was general supervision. The habit remained after Ukraine’s independence – prosecutors could come to any enterprise, including a private one, and extort money in exchange for not opening a criminal case. After the Euromaidan Revolution, this responsibility was taken from them, but the PGO still has too much power.
“So far, the PGO is a super law enforcement institution which concentrates too much responsibility. As a result, the position of Prosecutor General becomes political by default due to its expanded responsibilities,” says Liemienov, explaining the need to separate the investigation from the PGO.
The work of the SIB will be intersected only with a newly created unit of the PGO to provide procedural guidance. This unit will sanction SBI investigations.
How will other law enforcement institutions be affected?
Liemenov explains that launching the SBI is a complex reform in itself. It will also lead to changes within the Security Services of Ukraine (SSU) and the National Police. Creating the SBI should also lead to the elimination of the military prosecutor’s office – after the launch, the new institutions will be dealing with military crimes.
As the new agency will also investigate crimes committed by officials in the National Anti-Corruption Bureau and the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office, if political forces take control over the SBI, they will be able to influence the other people fighting top-level corruption too.
Who is trying to take SBI under control, and how?
So far the process of the bureau’s launch is a few months behind. For this, experts blame Roman Truba, the SBI Head.
Liemenov reveals Truba’s links to the biggest political forces in Ukraine.
“Firstly, Roman Truba was appointed to the position due to an agreement between two parties – Narodnyi Front [the party of the ex-Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk] and Petro Poroshenko’s Bloc. However, his key lobbyists are an MP from Narodniy Front Serhiy Pashynskyi and the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine secretary Oleksandr Turchynov. And so far Truba has moved under the protection of the Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko,” says Liemienov.
The expert concludes that it was Lutsenko who advised the head of the SBI not to appoint 27 middle-level managers of the bureau.
“Of course there were a few problematic candidates, but definitely not all of them. With this decision, Truba not only violated the law, but delayed the SBI’s launch. I’ll remind you that, according to Truba, the bureau should have been launched on 1 September 2018. And now we are talking about a launch only at the beginning of 2019,” Liemienov said.
Liemenov suggests that the process of appointing the head of the bureau might have been more transparent if there was proper attention from civil society and western partners. However, support is needed at the current stage as well.
“Our western partners should realize that the SBI should be launched as quickly and transparently as possible. So far, all criminal proceedings under investigation by the PGO and which should have been moved to the bureau are being investigated by the National Police and Security Services. It is clear that they do not have the corresponding institutional capacity for it. Creating the SBI is another step towards the renewal of the system of law enforcement institutions,” concludes Liemienov.
The expert emphasised that the lack of attention to the process is caused by representatives of civil society being obsessed with the anti-corruption agenda, which is important, but is not the only issue in the reform process.
It’s also noteworthy that if the SBI has had at least some attention, in general, the reform of law enforcement has moved to the deep background of Ukraine’s priorities. Nevertheless, it is one of the most proximate areas for ordinary people, as the personal safety of ordinary Ukrainians indicates the success of the reform in particular and sometimes the government in general.